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Melvin Douglas Lastman

LASTMAN, MELVIN DOUGLAS (Mel; 1933– ), Canadian entrepreneur, politician. Born in Toronto, at age 22 Lastman borrowed $2,000 and a truck to open his first appliance store. His one store grew into a chain of 40 discount furniture/appliance stores. In 1972 he was elected mayor of the former city of North York. For the next 25 years he ran an efficient administration known for low property taxes. He initiated organized municipal committees on child abuse, drinking and driving, race relations, and the abuse of the elderly. A strong supporter of charities and the arts, Lastman campaigned tirelessly for a vibrant North York downtown – a $5 billion undertaking built around what became Mel Lastman Square.

In 1997 North York amalgamated with the city of Torontoand Lastman was elected mayor of the amalgamated city and reelected in 2000. Lastman, outspoken and flamboyant, was exceedingly proud of Toronto. He campaigned for the city's recognition as the most culturally diverse community in the world. "Maybe inside [people] don't like one another," he said. "Maybe it is the Macedonians and the Greeks, or the Armenians and the Turks, or the Jews and the Arabs. I don't know. But they don't bring out their hostility here. Their kids play together, go to school together, and so on, and that is the miracle of Toronto." But Lastman was also criticized for being unable to control the city council and being too close to lobbyists and for various scandals and public gaffes.

Lastman wore his Jewishness on his sleeve. "The thing is," he said, "it doesn't matter that I am Jewish, because everyone is Ukrainian, Polish, Macedonian, Somali, Tamil, and it doesn't make a difference. This is the beauty of this country; you can be Jewish and you can get elected as the first mayor of the new megacity." Lastman retired from politics in 2003. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from York University and a Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.